Minnesota For Sale: final price tag, $97 million [Updated]

It’s surprisingly cheap to purchase the politics of a mid-sized state in flyover country.

Now that all the campaign finance reports are in for 2022, we can add up the cost to purchase Minnesota’s state government. The total rings in at about $92 million, give or take a few million. And all 10,000 lakes are included.

I add up the totals in this Part 3 of Minnesota for Sale.

I added up all of the main campaign finance vehicles enjoyed by the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party, which took complete control of Minnesota state government for the first time in a decade in last year’s elections.

First, I start with the amounts spent by the Democrats’ four victorious candidates for statewide office. Collectively, Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Steve Simon, and Julie Blaha spent nearly $14 million running for office last year.

Election cycles play out over two years, so I added together non-candidate money raised for both calendar years 2021 and 2022. It comes to over $66 million.

Some caveats on the above spreadsheet. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of every entity supporting Democratic candidates last year. Certainly, there are additional labor unions, for example, than just the ones listed above, but the largest ones are included. But since these smaller efforts donate to the party units or other vehicles, their donations are included in the above figures.

[Update] Since I first published this post, I’ve added spending from two additional funds, Climate Votes and the Safe Accessible Fair Elections group.

Some of the above entities also donate token amounts to Republicans, but in rounding-error amounts.

Since political entities trade donations among themselves, I have worked hard to avoid double-counting. The numbers above do not account for spending on Congressional races.

That leaves the efforts on behalf of the 201 races for state house and senate. Some of these individual campaigns can run to six figures. Some candidates (and their local party units), run unopposed, or against token opposition, and will only spend a few thousand dollars on a local campaign.

Because of uncontested seats, Democrats ran in only 193 of the 201 races. Of the 193 Democrats running, 11 did not have an official opponent.

To make the math easy, assume that each campaign costs $80,000, times 200 candidates, producing a total of $16 million. The average cost roughly corresponds to the base spending limits, per race, set by the state’s Campaign Finance Board. There is some duplication, with self-funding, and with the above funding entities also donating to individual candidates and local party units. But I’ll stick with $16 million for now.

What does that $92 million (+/-) buy you? It sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t. That amount is roughly 1/3 of the cost of the $250 million Feeding Our Future scandal.

For example, you get complete say over the disposition of the $17 billion+ state budget surplus. Divided by $92 million, that gives you leverage of almost 190:1. Stated another way, the initial investment in DFL campaigns was paid back in a few days’ worth of budget surplus. There is no stock market in the world that provides that kind of return on initial investment.

But it’s the gift that keeps on giving. You will notice the name of one of the large donors listed above, the casino-owning native-American tribe, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux. They, along with other casino-owning tribes, donated to Democrats this cycle and are poised to receive a monopoly on sports betting as a result.

The above donor list includes a number of government employee unions that will benefit from larger state budgets. For example, the state teachers union (Education Minnesota), sits near the top of the list of entities funding the state Democrats. Now the union is getting a windfall of $2.1 billion in extra funding for public schools. The payoff works out to something north of 400:1.

Private-sector unions are also present, which will benefit from labor-friendly policies pursued by Democrats. Planned Parenthood will benefit from the lifting of the few remaining state restrictions on abortion.

The only individual that I have listed above is Alida Messinger. The Rockefeller oil heiress and ex-wife of an ex-Governor of Minnesota (Mark Dayton) is the state’s largest individual donor. She gave nearly $3 million during this cycle.

In future editions of Minnesota for Sale, I will dig into some of the “dark money” backing the Democrats. Read Part 4.